Environmental Science Courses and Classes Overview

Environmental science is an interdisciplinary field that encompasses diverse topics such as ecology, law and economics. Courses in this field are available at many colleges and universities through environmental science programs ranging from certificates to bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees.

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Essential Information

Most aspiring environmental scientists will need a bachelor's degree to enter the field. Bachelor's degree programs usually present a broad perspective on environmental science but provide specialized training, too, with courses in water management or climate change. Graduates with knowledge of environmental policies and environmental computer modeling, as well as internship experience, may have an advantage over other job candidates.

Master's degree students typically select an area of specialization, such as sustainability or wildlife ecology, that determines the scope of their curricula. They also focus on research and prepare a thesis or project. A master's degree could be required to advance as an environmental scientist. In addition, some research positions call for a PhD, as do postsecondary teaching positions.

Here is an outline of common concepts taught in environmental science courses:

  • Ecology
  • Environmental planning
  • Biostatistics
  • Wetland management
  • Climate change
  • Environmental law
  • Restoration ecology

List of Common Courses

Introduction to Ecology Course

As the study of how living things interact with their environments, ecology is an important part of the environmental science field. This course introduces the topics of ecosystems, populations and climate, as well as explains the relationships among them. Adaptation to the environment through evolution and behavior is also discussed. Fieldwork is used to illustrate the effects of pollution, waste and poor land use on the biodiversity within ecosystems.

Water and the Environment Course

Students in this environmental science course gain an understanding of the hydrologic cycle and how it affects climate. Another focus is the distribution of groundwater and surface water over the planet. Specific water issues such as future management and allocation, drought and water quality are also explored from both national and global perspectives.

Environmental Geology Course

A course in environmental geology often begins with basic information on the rocks and minerals that make up the Earth and how they are shaped by water, wind, plate tectonics and other natural forces. The causes of climate change, including melting of the polar ice caps, are also discussed and debated. This course may include labs and field trips for student research.

Climate and the Atmosphere Course

The role of the atmosphere in creating climates and protecting life from solar radiation is explored in this course. Environmental science students learn the components and functions of each atmospheric layer, as well as the cycles of atmospheric change that range from days to eons. Other topics include how weather facilitates interaction and energy transfers between the atmosphere and oceans. Once students are familiar with this information, they discuss the atmospheric changes initiated by humans and the impact of these on ecosystems worldwide.

Wildlife Ecology Course

Wildlife courses present an overview of the biology and natural history of the major groups of animals, including mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. Students then explore the challenge of balancing human development and land use with the need to preserve biodiversity. Fieldwork and research is used to teach students about wildlife habitats, distribution and management.

Environmental Laws and Policies Course

Courses dealing with environmental policies explore how laws and regulations come about, including the roles played by the federal and state governments, the public and international agreements. Students learn about the Environmental Impact Assessment process, as well as specific laws governing water and air pollution, land use and hazardous waste. The cultural, economic and political impacts on regulatory decisions are also discussed. This course can be found toward the end of many undergraduate programs.

Pathways to Sustainability Course

The sustainability movement is rapidly becoming one of the most important parts of environmental science. Combining the disciplines of ecology, social justice and economics, it strives to find a balance between human development and preservation of the environment for future generations. Undergraduate and graduate courses in sustainability explore issues such as climate change, greenhouse gases, mass consumption and transportation, as well as the social ills of hunger, poverty and classism. Green solutions that include solar energy, green construction and sustainable land use planning are discussed as well.

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